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Color revolutions and political branding: A guide for the perplexed


The 'Green Revolution' in Iran has its paradoxes-- not least among them the anomaly of seeing young people out on the streets of Tehran in outfits that seemed openly defiant of Islamic dress norms while they also sported a color that many Muslims consider represents their religion.

The choice of that color, and of the accompanying rallying cry of "Allahu-akbar", seemed like deliberate attempts to build alliances between the often pro-secular west-o-philes of North Tehran and important reformist branches of the country's ruling hierarchy. (The lack of any real agreement between these two portions of the movement over whether the goal is to reform the country's Islamic system or to overthrow it is probably one of the movement's most notable weaknesses.)

But the use of the 'green' branding did seem like a bit of a master-move, regardless how things turn out. For me, it evoked first and foremost the great marching song of the old Sinn Fein/IRA struggle for Irish independence: "Oh, we're all off to Dublin in the green, in the green... "

Martial Law -Kowsar Nikahang

In the Irish context, of course, "Orange" is also an extremely potent marker. Note that when the successfully independent Irish Republicans designed their national flag, it cleverly incorporated the orange along with the green-- in much the same way that the flag of democratic South Africa cleverly incorporates all the main colors and themes of that country's previously warring parties.

Here in the US, I think one of the most moving civil war memorials of all is the court-house at Appomattox, the spot where Robert E. Lee submitted the surrender of the Army of Virginia. Now preserved as a historical site, the courthouse has a thought-provoking wall of photos of the war dead: the ones matted with Confederate grey are checkerboarded somberly across the whole wall with those matted with Yankee blue. There's a lot to be said, I think, for undertaking a good mash-up of everyone's formerly partisan symbols at the end of a civil war.

In Palestinian politics, green is the color used by Hamas, while Fateh uses yellow (on the right here.) Orange is the color used by Moustapha Barghouthi's still-small Mubadara party.

Shift focus to Lebanon, and confusingly there it's Hizbullah, which is broadly allied to Hamas, that uses yellow, while the somewhat-in-competition Amal movement uses green.

The Grand-daddy of the present wave of pro-west "color revolutions" is the "Orange Revolution" of 2004-05 in Ukraine.

Oh, by the way, that last image comes from the website of the Green movement in the European parliament. Numerous countries have Green Parties these days, of course, with their "green" signifying their environmentalist concern. Can't forget them...

Okay, moving along from 2005 we then had the "Rose Revolution" in Georgia. I can't find any satisfactory images from that, such as would quickly clarify for me whether the "rose" actually refers to a color or a flower.

But while we're in that part of the color spectrum we cannot forget the feisty US women of Code Pink.

And then there is Thailand, which earlier this year had back-to-back "red" and "yellow" movements trying to take over the capital. That development prompted the Asia Society's Jamie Metzel to call for the creation of a new movement to bring the two sides together. Okay, what he really called for was an especially Thai form of an "orange" revolution: mashing up the symbols, again.

On a longer time-scale, the most lasting of all color brandings of political movements in modern times has almost certainly been the association of red with socialism and/or communism. That association has held true in almost every country except the US (and perhaps Thailand?)

In the US, for some unknown reason, political analysts started some time ago talking about "red states" and "blue states"-- with red signifying the Republican Party, and blue the Democrats. Maybe this is related to the exceptionalism American culture displays on other matters related to socialist movements, like the US's choice of what seems like a fairly random day in early September to celebrate "Labor Day", when every other country I know of that honors its working people does so on May 1st.

One final note about political branding. I still think one of the most powerful symbols anyone anywhere has ever developed is the peace symbol. It was designed in 1958 by the anti-war British designer Gerald Holtom, who said it was based on the semaphore symbols for "ND"-- nuclear disarmament.

He also wrote this about the development of the design:

"I was in despair. Deep despair. I drew myself: the representative of an individual in despair, with hands palm outstretched outwards and downwards in the manner of Goya's peasant before the firing squad. I formalised the drawing into a line and put a circle round it."

Fifty-one years later, and we still have a lot of reason to be in despair about the number of nuclear weapons in the world... But Holtom's symbol is still a powerful and immediately recognizable mobilization tool for peace activists.

In the comments here, it would interesting to learn of other uses of color branding by non-governmental political movements around the world. I am sure I have missed some above!

Source: Just World News

Original article published on June 27, 2009

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STORMING BRAINS : 02/07/2009